When Greece widens its regional foreign-policy scope

by Antonis D. Papagiannidis

Greece has always prided itself of having a multi-faceted foreign policy, with regional bilateral and multilateral relations playing a central role alongside its relations with major actors such as the U.S. the EU or Russia.

A recent visit of Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis to Bulgaria and his meeting with Bulgarian newly-elected Kiril Petkov gave some proof of this. Further to in-depth talks about accelerating vaccinations (Bulgaria still lags), energy matters and weaning from Russian natural gas dependence (with the IGB pipeline to assume a central role) Mitsotakis spent important political capital by trying to convince his Bulgarian counterpart to lift the block Bulgaria has adopted concerning the accession talks of neighboring (to both Greece and Bulgaria) North Macedonia with the EU (of which, also, both Greece and Bulgaria are members, with the latter thus holding de facto a veto card concerning the European perspective of N. Macedonia).

Greece may well have put an end to a long-time name dispute with what came to be called “The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” for the better part of three decades with the Prespes Agreement – to which K. Mitsotakis’ own party was strongly if not virulently opposed back in 2018 – but Bulgaria has still pending issues that made Sofia block accession perspectives of North Macedonia (along with Albania, seen in Brussels as “Western Balkans”) to the EU . Earlier on, it was Paris ore the Hague that had been blocking.

The issues raised by Sofia have to do with the recognition of a Bulgarian minority in N. Macedonia, the name and language as well as history. So, when Mitsotakis uses Greece’s own European weight to bring the accession perspective of North Macedonia back to track transcending his own party’s remaining opposition to the Prespes Agreement, he widens his country’s regional foreign-policy scope as he integrates it into a European as well as regional stability perspective.